What is Self-Advocacy?

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Key Points

  • Self-advocacy is when someone communicates their views, needs, interests or rights
  • The three elements of self-advocacy are: understanding yourself, knowing your needs and support, and communicating these needs to others.

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is when a person communicates about their views, needs, interests or rights. Some people say self-advocacy is about ‘speaking up’ for themselves and about the things that matter to them, but you don’t have use verbal communication to self-advocate.

They advocate for their rights, for change and equality and to make decisions and choices about their lives. 

Self-advocacy is fundamentally about true equality, respect, and power, and about recognizing and changing the current imbalances in all of those things. Whether it is going through the legal system to close an institution… or learning that it's okay to have a voice and make decisions… Real self-advocacy will always upset the status quo in some way.” Mel Baggs 2005

To self-advocate is to:

  • know your rights and what you’re entitled to
  • speak up and make your voice heard
  • communicate your thoughts and feelings
  • ask for what you need and want
  • have a say in the matters that involve you or are important to you
  • make decisions and choices about your life and take responsibility for them
  • ask for help when you need it
  • address inequality, unjust and unfair situations.

The three key elements of self-advocacy are:

1. Understanding yourself

It is important that you understand yourself and your needs. This includes having self-awareness about your interests, values, and what matters to you.

2. Knowing your needs and support

It is important to know what your rights and entitlements are. Knowing where to access information and resources, and what help and support is available is important in being able to advocate for yourself.

3. Communicating these needs to others

Communication is the core of self-advocacy. This means developing and practicing self-advocacy skills, to build your confidence and help you effectively advocate for yourself.

The history of the self-advocacy movement

The self-advocacy movement started in the 1960’s in Sweden, when Dr Bengt Nirje formed recreational clubs for people with intellectual disability. He believed that people with disabilities should have the same opportunities, rights, and experiences as people without disabilities.

Shortly after, the Swedish Parents Association, hosted a conference to give people with disability the opportunity to talk about the things that were important to them. Similar conferences were then held in England and Canada in the early 1970’s.

In the USA, the first self-advocacy organisation was formed in the 1970’s. They were called People First.

In Australia, the first self-advocacy organisation was formed in 1980. It was called Reinforce and was by and for people with intellectual disability.

The growth of self-advocacy organisations across the USA led to the start of the autistic rights movement. In 1992, Autism Network International (ANI) was formed by Jim Sinclair, Kathy Grant and Donna Williams. Then in 2004, Aspies for Freedom was formed followed by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2006.

In Australia, the Australia Network of Self Advocates was formed in 2004 by Geraldine Robertson, Katharine Annear & Tony Langdon. Which became the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia & New Zealand (ASAN AUNZ) in 2008.

Further information

Spectrum Women Magazine – An introduction to Self-Advocacy and self-determination skills

Reframing Autism – Self-Advocacy from the personal to the political